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Living to Eat  

eating for both enjoyment and nutritional value

This Teamcare Blog post “Living To Eat” was guest-written by Avram Altman, MS, RD, who is the Director of Nutrition Services at CenterLight Health System.

CenterLight nutritionist Avi Altman

The animated Pixar film, Ratatouille, is a great example of how I feel about the importance of food in our lives. The film is about an idealistic and talented young rat named Remy (Yes! An actual rat!) and his dream of becoming a chef. Near the film’s finale, one of the world’s most powerful and influential food critics tastes Remy’s ratatouille (a French vegetable dish) and it magically transports him back to his childhood, where his loving mother served him the exact same dish.  

One of the key lessons that this movie highlights, above all else, is the most important thing about food is that it should be enjoyed! Beyond fueling our body with important nutrients, eating should evoke the fondest of our memories and experiences through the food’s flavors, textures, aromas and presentation and put a smile on our face.

For me, that’s an essential part of my work overseeing Nutrition Services at CenterLight. While I know that there are some people who only eat to live, I’d rather live to eat.  I believe that this enjoyment is extremely important for CenterLight participants, and really for all of us, throughout every stage of our life but especially as we get older.


At CenterLight, we operate sites throughout the five boroughs of New York City.  We also have a site in Westchester County to the north and out east on Long Island. Our Stillwell site in south Brooklyn has a strong and vibrant Russian and Asian presence where dishes like beef stroganoff, Olivier salad or a sautéed dish with chicken and Chinese vegetables can be found.  Our Jamaica site has numerous Indian participants that prefer the Punjabi style of food that include Tandoori dishes (a Punjabi specialty), makki di roti (an unleavened, flat bread made from corn meal) and sarson da saag (mustard greens prepared with local spices like garlic and ginger).  

1. beef stroganoff, 2. makki di roti; 3. jiaozi dumpling; 4. sancocho; 5. tavë kosi; 6. japchae


Our Grand Street site in Manhattan has Chinese and Spanish participants representing the surrounding areas of Chinatown and the Lower East Side.  They seek the comfort of familiar foods like mah gu gai pin and jiaozi dumplings and sancocho (a beef stew) with tostones (plantains).  The Albanian and Jamaican participants who represent our Wallerstein site in the Bronx can enjoy tavë kosi (a baked dish of rice and lamb accompanied with a flavored yogurt) or maybe ackee and saltfish with a side of bammy.  In Flushing, the Korean participants bring a taste for kimchee, japchae and bulgogi. 


Let’s not forget that no matter what CenterLight site you call home you can always get good old American comfort foods like a juicy piece of baked chicken, buttery mashed potatoes and a seasonal vegetable. Each site has its own unique demographic that parallels the culturally diverse map that makes our state and our city so incredible and makes us all New Yorkers.


We strive to serve all participants with as many culturally appropriate and familiar foods as we can while making all the necessary accommodations for their specific and individual health needs. Whether it’s borscht, gulab jamun, oxtail, arroz con pollo, kimchi and bulgogi or bok choy and callaloo, serving culturally familiar foods gets our participants excited, and that gets me excited.

1. borscht; 2. gulab jamun; 3. oxtail; 4. kimchi; 5. callaloo


As you may have noticed, I’m a big foodie. I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Manhattan before food in New York was as culturally diverse as it is today. When I was a young kid, my dad would drive us to the Silver Palace in Chinatown to enjoy dim sum on a Sunday morning, long before the proliferation of other Asian cuisines, like Vietnamese, Japanese or Thai.  We went to Flushing for Korean barbeque and to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx for homemade mozzarella.  We went to City Island for special occasions to have lobster and crabs and down to Brighton Beach for blinis, smoked salmon and caviar.  We would travel to La Flor De Broadway in Hamilton Heights for the best three-dollar Cuban sandwiches and Indian food on East 6th Street or up on Lexington Avenue. To this day, I still enjoy exploring all of New York’s diverse food neighborhoods.

In the coming months, I’ll be sharing specific nutrition tips and recipes to help support the health and wellbeing of CenterLight participants.  

But in the meantime, I’ll leave you with this: whether you are an older adult or help care for one, serve and enjoy as many real, whole, fresh and seasonal foods as possible and preferably ones that make you smile and laugh and definitely make you want more!  


Avram Altman is the Director of Clinical Nutrition Services for CenterLight Health System, one of the nation’s oldest and largest Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), which serves thousands of older adults across the New York metro area, through an innovative, team-based approach.


H3329_2019_BLOGLivingtoEat Approved MMDDYYYY
Pending CMS and DOH approval
Last updated March 26, 2019

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